Counting the Threats from Intelligence Services

CNN’s web site has an interesting item on the nature of the foreign intelligence hacking threat to US interests. It reports Joel Brenner, National Counterintelligence Executive, as saying that it’s not accurate to blame only the Chinese Government for recent penetrations of government systems. The reality is that about 140 foreign intelligence organizations are trying to hack into US computer networks. They are too easy to hack and the number of world-class hackers is multiplying at bewildering speed.

Of course this is only to be expected. Hacking is cheap, fast and can be carried out remotely. And the necessary skills are becoming widespread. In just a couple of years time Nicholas Negroponte’s one laptop per child initiative will hopefully have issued millions of networked laptops to children across several developing countries. Fast-forward several years and even the smallest intelligence services will have access to unprecedented levels of computer skills. Today we’re just scratching the surface of the real potential for cyber espionage and information warfare. As Alvin Toffler pointed out many years ago, it might even dominate the 21st Century.

Perhaps the only item in doubt is the actual number of countries in the world, which, interestingly, can range anywhere from 189 to 266 depending on your source. But whichever number you accept, it represents a lot of competing national interests.

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